Jim Barksdale’s Talk on Leadership and Management

During a visit this week from Jason Rosenthal, CEO of Lytro and fellow Netscape alumnus, this “Barksdale-ism” came up: “Profits are like breathing. What you need is oxygen but the only way to get it is to breathe.” Then today, Richard Daly, DNAnexus CEO, wrote “Don’t Play With Dead Snakes — Kill Projects Before They Kill You” borrowing from perhaps the most famous of Barksdale’s rules. For those of us who had the pleasure of working with Jim back at Netscape, he is a giant: the grown-up in the room, a steady hand, the captain of the world’s first Internet rocket ship and famous for delivering his wisdom in memorable vignettes. His influence was and remains profound.

I recently unpacked some old boxes and found notes from a talk Jim gave on October 24, 1997. Even 20 years later, his insights apply just as much now as they did then. Enjoy this wisdom from Barksdale, a gifted leader and true management master:

On Management

The 5 Keys to Effective Management are: 1) plan 2) organize 3) staff 4) direct 5) control

Public is for praise; private is for reprisal.

Cooperate and communicate. As the Marines say, “Shoot, move, communicate.” You can’t control communication unless it is written; force a form of written dialog for control. Verbal communication skills are also important.

Remember the higher purpose — look at the big picture. Like Jonathan Livingston Seagull — the higher you fly, the farther you can see. Do the right thing in the absence of specific guidelines.

Remember to put yourself in their shoes. People want to be listened to and have their views respected.

On Leadership: “It is a repeatable skill, not an art.”

There are many qualities that make effective leaders. Not all managers are effective leaders, but the following are some of the most important qualities that distinguish the good ones:

Judgment. Logically weighing the facts to make a decision. Making sure you’re technically qualified to decide.

Bearing. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but it’s favorable carriage and appearance, being self-assured and controlled, and showing flashes of humor and dignity.

Decisiveness. Prompt decisions, bearing in mind the following guidelines 1) never make a decision you don’t have to make 2) “no decision” is also a decision.

Apply the General Rules of Snakes (how to handle problems) 1) If you see a snake, kill it 2) Don’t play with dead snakes 3) All opportunities start out looking like snakes (look at problems as opportunities to fix them).

Initiative. Do it now; you are the catalyst for action. The best leaders are those going 900 mph and look like they are walking.

Unselfishness. Help people out. Be willing to pitch in when someone else needs it.

Loyalty. Self-explanatory.

Integrity. Honesty, endurance. On the latter, control your pace and rhythm. Proving you can work long term is more important than proving you can work 100 hours a week. Take good care of your physical health.

Tact. Courtesy. Treating people the way you want to be treated.

Courage. Courage to accept criticism of yourself. Take action on it, and make things better. Always try to do better.

Knowledge. Know your stuff.

Enthusiasm. Go after it, and enjoy what you’re doing. Remember that attitude is a performance problem.

Dependability. If you’re not dependable, it suggests that others around you aren’t important enough. It is a combination of tact, courtesy etc. Not being dependable suggests arrogance.

Justice. The result of judgment. Know the argument. Don’t play favorites when it comes to justice. Favoritism is one of the most debilitating of all attributes in a workplace.

How Do You Motivate Team Members?

Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, but don’t misstate the situation. Fix what they’re doing wrong.

Execute, accomplish, show constant improvement, and listen.

“When you’re in a goldfish bowl, you gotta learn how to act like a fish. I don’t know exactly what that means, but don’t curse the darkness.” — Jim Barksdale

With 20 years of hindsight, I realize just how much this was a blueprint for me as a leader and manager, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you, Jim, for being such a great teacher to so many of us.